Indian paddler Bhavina Patel continued her sensational run at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, reaching the Women’s Singles Class 4 final with a brilliant win against China’s Zhang Miao on Saturday.
Bhavina came back strongly from a game deficit to stun World No 3 Miao 3-2 in the thrilling semifinal clash on Saturday, setting herself up for a historic attempt at winning a first gold medal at the Paralympic Games for herself, and the fifth overall for the country.
After losing the first game 7-11, the 34-year-old government employee from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, fought back brilliantly to beat Miao, the Rio Paralympic Games silver medallist, 7-11, 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-8 in the 34 minutes contest.
First-time Paralympian Bhavina has now assured India at least a silver medal, the first in table tennis at the Paralympic Games. India’s 12 medals at the Paralympics so far have come from three sports — athletics (10 including 3 gold), powerlifting (1 bronze), and swimming (1 gold).
In the final to be played on Sunday, Bhavina will take on Chinese World No. 1 Zhou Ying, the player to whom she had lost in straight games in her first match in Tokyo Paralympics in the group stage.
It is a sensational comeback for the Indian paddler as she not only made it past the preliminary round after losing to Zhou but also beat three strong opponents including the Rio 2016 gold medallist Borislava Peric Rankovic of Serbia and silver medallist Miao to reach the final.
But the semifinal clash on Saturday did not get off to a good start for Bhavina, a para-Asian medallist.
Bhavina found Miao’s top-spin serve too hard to tackle and went down tamely in the first game, conceding five points in a row from 5-5 to eventually lose the game 7-11.
But just when it looked like the best-of-five games match was following scripts of their previous encounters in which Miao enjoyed an 11-0 head-to-head record, Bhavina stunned her Chinese nemesis with an unexpected fightback.
Bhavina had different ideas on Saturday and she played as a player possessed. She stitched together a brilliant combination of powerful Tomahawk serves, impeccable backhand defence, and a whiplash backhand smash that forced the 30-year-old Miao, ranked third in the world, into submission.
In the second game, Bhavina broke away from 5-5 to win the next five points and levelled the scores at 11-6.
With both players winning one game apiece, the third game held the key to the encounter as it was crucial for both of them to take lead and establish their ascendancy. Bhavina surged ahead with some impeccable returns and sensational shots to take a 5-0 lead and went on to win the game 10-4. Though the Chinese player committed some unforced errors, Bhavina won the game by superbly mixing her shots, creating angles with deft placements, and attacking Miao on the backhand.
Stunned by the reverse, Zhang Miao came up with a strong response as she fought for every point. Scores went neck and neck till 9-9 in the third game as neither player was ready to give an inch. But Miao won the next two points to take the match into the decider.
Bhavina came out all guns blazing in the fifth and final game as she surged to a 5-0 lead. But Miao had some more fight left in her as she controlled her nerves and reduced the margin to eventually bring it down to 9-7.
At 9-8 when it looked like things will get difficult for Bhavina, the Indian paddler pulled two superb shots from her repertoire to seal the game 11-8 and secured a historic medal for India.
If she wins the final against Zhou Ying on Sunday, Bhavina will become the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Paralympic Games. She will be only the fourth person ever after swimmer Murlikant Petkar (1972), javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia (2004, 2016), and high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu (2016) to win a gold medal for India at the Paralympic Games.
If she loses, she joins Deepa Malik as the only woman to win a medal for India in the Paralympic Games.